The ongoing crisis and fighting in the Middle East are giving rise to humanitarian consequences of an unprecedented scale since the world wars. The number of victims, refugees and displaced persons is growing day by day, not to mention the acts of torture, rape, enslavement and the eradication of the traditional cultural diversity of the region.
Public opinion is also moved by the increasing destruction of the cultural heritage of the region that bears witness to early human exploits, the common roots of different civilisations and their mutual enrichment.
The war ruthlessly strikes throughout Syria and Iraq. Thus, the old city of Aleppo, an endangered world heritage site, has become a front line where fighters deploy all possible means of destruction, from Molotov cocktails to TNT barrels, and including mortars, rockets, tanks, so called “hell cannons” and tunnels packed with explosives or simple small arms.
The looting of archaeological sites and the illicit traffic of their treasured objects, such as Apamea, Doura Europos and Mari, finance the continuation of the savagery of this war and irretrievably erase the pages of our history that scholars could still have written.
Wilful destructions, such as those perpetrated in Hatra and Nimrud, display an ideological perversion and unbridled vandalism enabled through massive means of destruction. Palmyra is being held hostage and its ancient jewels demolished one by one.
In the face of these daunting challenges, the defenders of heritage, such as the Iraqi lawyer Samira al Nuaimi, tortured and executed by IS (Daech) in Mosul on September 22, 2014, have risen up and resisted. The general directorate of antiquities and museums in Syria has already paid a heavy price losing fourteen of its staff, including Bassim Hasan, conservator of the Bosra Museum, shot by a sniper on May 26, 2014, Abdallah al Humaid, guard at a site on the Euphrates, slain in front of his family by IS (Daech) on July 23, 2014, Qassem Yehya, deputy director of Laboratories killed at work in Damascus by a mortar shot on August 8, 2015, and of course Khaled al Assaad, a dedicated scholar, an elderly academic, whose particularly brutal killing in Palmyra on August 15 moved the world.
Icomos, the premier international professional organisation in the field of heritage protection and conservation, expresses its deepest sympathy to the families of these victims, who were martyred for doing their duty, and to recognise and pay tribute to the dedication of the men and women in Syria and Iraq who, like them, continue to courageously struggle to safeguard the heritage of their people and humanity, thus contributing to ensure a more harmonious future for generations yet to come.
Icomos, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, is a unique, non-governmental, not for profit international organisation, committed to furthering the conservation, protection, use and enhancement of the world’s cultural heritage. With Unesco and its partner organisations, Icomos pursues monitoring, information, training, advisory and programming activities for the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria.
For more information see www.icomos.org
Contributed by: ICOMOS SEYCHELLES